EU crisis should not lead to complacency towards Turkey’s responsibilities

The International and European Federations of Journalists, (IFJ) and (EFJ), together with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters sans frontières (RSF), yesterday held a lunch time debate at the Brussels Press Club to discuss recent developments on press freedom in Turkey and reactions from EU institutions. Before analysing the EU recent strategic posture as regards to Turkey, Jean-Paul Marthoz (CPJ EU Correspondent) opened the debate denouncing an important press freedom degradation symptom: while the number of journalists in jail globally has slightly declined in comparison to the record highs of the past three years, the figures have doubled from 7 to 14 in Turkey, according to CPJ. The last months have been marked by a succession of attacks on independent journalism. “Who could stop such worrying slide into arbitrariness and repression? Turkish civil society and in particular journalists’ organisations and press freedom groups have strongly resisted to defend their space of freedom. But there is a limit to their capacity to resist such attacks. International actors have a role to play. Turkey is a candidate to membership and it has to demonstrate that it loyally strives to apply the values, norms and laws which are the pillar of the EU project.” Jean-Paul Marthoz explained controversial EU leaders' discourses or acts, including Jean-Claude Juncker’s statement in late October that “the EU should not harp on at Turkey about its record on human rights”, Angela Merkel’s trip to Turkey before elections, the postponement of the publication of the Progress Report after the elections, Frederica Mogherini’s discretion, the lack of reference of human rights in the joint 29 November post-summit declaration and others. “The refugee crisis and the emergence of Daesh should not lead to complacency towards Turkey’s responsibilities as a candidate country. If the EU turns a blind eye to the plight of journalists in Turkey, it risks losing credibility with those who support the country’s democratisation and European integration. Any compromise on the fundamental European principles of press freedom, democratic governance and rule of law would undermine the very nature of the EU project.” Mehmet Koksal, project officer at the EFJ, began specifying that the conference’s purpose was not to send a message to Turkey. “Violations occur in that country on a daily basis and require that we send strong messages. This is a conference to send a message to EU policy makers on its relation with Turkey.” He presented the IFJ and EFJ fact approach to consider freedom of expression and media workers' protection levels, using two clear indicators: reports published on Mapping media freedom and the CoE platform to promote the protection of journalistm and safety of journalists. “The European Commission has just organized its third SPEAK-UP conference. A lot of international experts came, shared their experiences. Commission executives and EU policy makers are fully aware of the crackdown on independent media. Our affiliate, the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), as other press freedom defenders and the civil society organisations, are very active locally and protest regularly against violations. Those brave actors think that Europe has forgotten the relevance of human rights and the freedom of the press. The only message they perceived is: take my 3 billions and keep refugees in Turkey. The rest doesn’t seem to count for the Europeans,” explained Mehmet Koksal. Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, highlighted some recent cases of repression against any critical voice. In late October, the authorities cut off TV channels, daily newspapers stopped printing and many news websites such as DIHA are still being blocked. Four days before elections, the government replaced media owners at Koza Ipek media holding by a pro-government editorial line. After elections, two journalists at Nokta magazine were sent to jail for a cover depicting the country’s polarisation. Johann Bihr also criticised the impunity surrounding police violence. “Only at the time of the Gezi protest, we count 150 journalists beaten by the police and in all these cases, no police officer was been prosecuted. That is not only a matter of press freedom: EU has to take the stability of the country in consideration, too," he added.

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